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“He’s a guy who likes to think he’s really in tune with his body,” said coach Adam Oates, who dealt with two groin injuries during his pro career. “Until you go through those injuries, you’re learning yourself.”

Laich “never understood what it was like to miss games.” He played through injuries in the past, including a knee injury last season and a broken foot during the 2009 playoffs.

“The things that I had played through were in my control,” Laich said. “This one, I was so limited I wasn’t going to be able to do anything. And the injury really makes you get an appreciation for how much you enjoy the game.”

And this time out has shown the Caps how much they miss Laich, whose last NHL game was May 12. Oates would love to be able to slide him onto the first line as the left wing with Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin and have him available for power-play and penalty-killing minutes, too.

“You miss his versatility out there,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “He takes a lot of [defensive]-zone draws, a lot of PK time. He’s able to put points up as well. He’s one of those guys that every team likes to have and when’s he not in the lineup, you miss him.”

Hockey runs through Laich’s veins, but at this point he knows not to rush back before his groin is 100 percent. When that’s the case, he said there will be “no excuses.”

That time has not arrived, but Laich hopes it’s sooner rather than later.

“It was a long, long recovery. It’s still not over; we still have a ways to go,” he said. “But it’s been a long, long process, something I never, ever want to go through again. Ever.”